There is a movement, spearheaded by state Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, that argues education should not be compulsory in Utah. On his political blog, Osmond wrote, "Before 1890, public education in America was viewed as an opportunity -- not a legal obligation.
"Prior to that time, the parent was primarily responsible for the education of their children. Then came compulsory education. Our state began requiring that all parents must send their children to public school for fear that some children would not be educated because of an irresponsible parent. We need to shift the public mind set to recognize that education is not an obligation, but an opportunity to be treasured and respected."
Making education for children an elective is one of those ideas that is great fodder for a several-hour bull session with other political junkies. But it's dumb public policy, and we trust that the vast majority of Utah Legislature are wise enough to deflate this balloon. Public education is never perfect for everyone, and it certainly can use improvement and innovation. However, it's also the key toward a successful future for innumerable Utahns. Education is what provides the spark for an individual to want to learn, to continue to learn, and eventually achieve success in adulthood. Osmond's bill provides a rationale for parents to have their children easily drop out of school.
Osmond and others are concerned that schools too often take over duties that should be parental. That may be true, and we welcome ideas -- short of ditching compulsory education -- that get parents more involved. However, making school an elective is a bad deal for students who don't have the oversight in the home that school provides. What happens to these kids if school becomes an elective? They won't be moving to home-schooling or paying for and traveling to other education alternatives.
Utah already has a very lenient compulsory education law, with generous exemptions for home-schooling. This proposal for Osmond seems geared toward activists who have the drive and means to switch their children's education choices. It will hurt those students who rely on the schools to help motivate them to achieve.